CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. – The SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth on Tuesday with a full science load from the International Space Station — and a bunch of well-used children's Legos.
The privately owned cargo ship splashed down in the Pacific right on target, 250 miles off the coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, five hours after leaving the orbiting lab. The California-based SpaceX confirmed the Dragon's safe arrival via Twitter.
"Special delivery! Dragon now being recovered in the Pacific," the company said in a tweet.
The capsule brought back more than a ton of science experiments and old station equipment, as well as 13 toy sets of Lego building blocks that were used by space station crews over the past couple years to teach children about science.
It's the only supply ship capable of two-way delivery. With the space shuttles retired, NASA is paying SpaceX more than $1 billion for a dozen resupply missions.
Earlier in the day, astronauts released the unmanned capsule from the end of the space station's giant robot arm. The 250-mile-high parting was a poignant moment for the three space station's residents, who helped to snare the Dragon three weeks earlier.
"Sad to see the Dragon go," astronaut Thomas Marshburn told Mission Control. "Performed her job beautifully. Heading back to her lair. Wish her all the best for the splashdown today."
The Dragon used old-NASA-style parachutes to plop into the ocean; company officials indicated all appeared to go well during the re-entry.
Once the Dragon pulls into port, NASA will retrieve the science samples meticulously collected over the weeks and months by space station astronauts, as well as experiments that flew up with Dragon, including hundreds of flowering weeds. Mouse stem cells stayed behind on the space station, at the request of Japanese researchers.
Old space station equipment and other items aboard the Dragon will be removed by SpaceX in McGregor, Texas. In all, 2,668 pounds of gear was loaded into the capsule. The capsule will arrive in Texas Wednesday night.
SpaceX — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — is run by billionaire Elon Musk.
This was the second flight of a Dragon to the space station under the $1.6 billion contract with NASA, and the third delivery mission altogether for SpaceX. The next flight is slated for late fall.